It’s one day of talks down — and time will tell how many to go — for Hollywood’s movie producers and TV networks and the Writers Guild, who began negotiations Monday on a new overall contract.
The two sides met for a full day at the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers headquarters in Sherman Oaks, Calif. It’s presumed they exchanged opening proposals and set guidelines and a time schedule for the talks, though neither side would confirm the substance of the opening session.
The WGA’s current deal with the AMPTP expires on May 1.
The last contract talks between the WGA and the producers in 2011 lasted a little more than two weeks. Those came after the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild has already signed off on deals, however.
Those agreements made it tougher for the writers to achieve more at the bargaining table without the threat of a strike. And with the memory of the bitter and divisive 100-day work stoppage of 2008 that devastated Hollywood fresh in most members’ minds, that was a long shot. The tanking U.S. economy of that time didn’t help, either.
This time around, only the DGA has made a deal. In January, its members ratified their new contract, which calls for annual 3 percent raises, higher residuals bases; first-time terms and conditions for high-budget new media made for subscription video services like Netflix and the establishment of a formal diversity program at the major TV studios.
The writers know that the economy has improved since 2011 however, and that the landscape has changed, particularly in terms of cable TV.
Cable-show writers are paid about 30 percent less than writers on primetime network shows and get better residual deals, a disparity that came about since cable shows tended to have smaller budgets and attracted fewer advertising dollars. The gap between cable shows and the networks has narrowed over the past few years however, and the WGA is likely to seek a contract that reflects that.
The $27 million in residuals collected by WGA members in 2012 for writing for basic cable rose nearly 25% from the previous year.
The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are expected to open talks on a new deal once the WGA bargaining is concluded. Their deal expires June 30.